toilet, poop transplant

Several years ago we heard from a concerned reader that his bowel movements floated. At first he worried it might be something really serious, like pancreatic cancer. But then he realized he would have been long gone if that had been the case since his stools had floated for decades.

What About Celiac Disease

Our reader did some searching and discovered that one of the symptoms of celiac disease can be tan floating poop. He also had quite a few other symptoms of celiac disease so he decided to give up gluten and see what happened. After several weeks he felt much better, but when he mentioned this to his doctors they dismissed his story. His question: “What else should I be doing?”

Symptoms of Celiac Disease

  • Fatty floating stool (tan or light gray)
  • Digestive discomfort (bloating, gas, cramps, diarrhea, flatulence, heartburn)
  • Fatigue, tiredness, irritability, exhaustion, headache
  • Anemia
  • Edema (fluid retention)
  • Joint pain
  • Psychological symptoms (anxiety and/or depression)
  • Nerve damage (numbness or tingling in hands or feet)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Dermatitis herpetiformis (an itchy blistery skin condition)
  • Easy bruising
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies

Readers to the Rescue

T.H. offered this advice:

“I think you should get tested for Celiac Disease. You need to get the blood test first. You should keep eating gluten a few weeks before the blood test; otherwise, you could get a false negative.

“Celiac Disease gets overlooked more often than not. I would tell your doctors that you would like to get a blood test. If it is positive, then you should see a gastroenterologist who will perform an endoscopy to verify your blood test results with a biopsy.”

K.H. went into even more detail:

“At this point, he definitely should do more than avoid gluten. He needs to be tested for Celiac Disease before it’s too late. His doctor can order blood tests that indicate either gluten sensitivity or Celiac Disease. The most specific blood test for Celiac is Anti-Tissue Transglutaminase-IgA. There are two DNA tests, as well, but these are less definitive, as he might have the gene(s), but not the disease. The “gold standard” of Celiac diagnosis is biopsy of the small intestine.

“He must get the biopsy before he has been off gluten for long, because in the absence of gluten the intestine heals, so over time, the biopsy will show a false negative. After avoiding gluten for a while, the blood tests also will be negative, and this can indicate that his diet truly is gluten-free.

“I had avoided most (but not all) gluten for a decade when my blood tests came back positive. Fearing a false negative, I declined intestinal biopsy. Now that I’ve been strictly gluten-free for years, gastroenterologists agree that it’s too late for me to be biopsied. I feel certain I am Celiac, because in addition to three positive blood tests, two positive DNA tests, and vast improvement in my health living gluten-free, now if I accidentally eat gluten, my digestion fails and I experience miserable symptoms for three weeks.

“I fear that should I ever be admitted to a hospital, doctors may not believe I am celiac, because I don’t have the “proof” of a biopsy. As an in-patient I may have difficulty ensuring the safety of my nutrition.

“I urge your reader to eat gluten a little while longer, get the blood tests, and if they are positive, get the intestinal biopsy. (With positive biopsy results, pricey DNA tests are unnecessary.) He’ll be so glad to have definitive proof of his illness, if indeed his is celiac.”

Another possibility: H. Pylori Infection

Although physicians rarely test for this intestinal infection, it too can lead to floating stools. One reader suffered many of the same symptoms as celiac patients including bellyaches, flatulence and fatigue.

She tried a gluten-free diet and while it helped a bit this approach did not solve the problem entirely. Her doctor tested for the bacteria H. pylori and it came back positive. After treatment with antibiotics and probiotics her stools stopped floating, the smelly gas disappeared and she recovered completely.

You can learn more about overcoming H. pylori at this link and find out how other readers beat this stomach bug. By the way, broccoli sprouts can help defeat this bacterial infection.

Is Floating Poop Always a Problem?

J.P. asked whether there is anything wrong with having floating stools if there are no other symptoms.

Our answer: Most of the time, you need to worry about this only if it is a sudden change from your previous experience. But such a change is worth checking out.

B.C. points out that:

“Floating poop could be the sign of something more serious. In my husband’s case, it was one of the first signs of pancreatic cancer. So always mention it to the doc, especially if paired with fatigue and pale-looking skin (which turned out to be jaundice).”

Bottom Line:

Floating poop is not necessarily something to worry about, but it could be a sign of celiac disease or H. pylori infection. There are relatively easy tests for both conditions. A sudden change in bowel behavior requires prompt medical assessment. As B.C. suggests, always mention symptoms such as floating poop, fatigue or changes in skin color to your physician.

Discover more details about dealing with a range of digestive tract woes in our Guide to Digestive Disorders.
Share your own floating poop story below and please vote on this article at the top of the page.

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  1. Lesley

    I was sceptical about being gluten sensitive so foolishly came off it before talking to my doctor, so by the time I approached him all or most of my symptoms ( Orange floaty poo, rashes, constant diarrhoea etc etc )had cleared up. He said I needed to go back on gluten for six weeks. I went home and was stuck at home not able to go far from the bathroom and feeling really miserable fr about a month and couldn’t bear it any more so rang Dr and told him I couldn’t do it.

    So, the appt for gastroscope came through and my doctor told me to bite the bullet and go back on gluten again till the test…so..two slices of toast later I ended up in A&E with a suspected stroke! So it was investigated, MRI etc, no stroke, it was a reaction to gluten. I went ahead with biopsy but no joy of course as it was not possible to keep eating gluten after that. Please, Go to the dr when symptoms are like this before you disrupt your body. I was diagnosed on symptoms only, this is not good enough for some health professionals, its my own fault.

  2. Sara
    Seattle, WA

    I had floating poops and other digestive problems including painful gas for quite awhile. After ruling out several serious possibilities I learned that it was due to my habit of taking my vitamin supplements, including 500mg of magnesium, away from food. I don’t know why I did that, but it was my habit for years to do so, and it did indeed create problems as well as waste a lot of the good the supplements could have done for me. Now I take my vits halfway through my lunch and it’s a giant, giant improvement in my digestion as well as having solved a few other problems.

  3. JOEY

    I have heard that a healthy person should avoid gluten even if he/she is NOT allergic to gluten and does NOT suffer from celiac disease. Supposedly, you can also reduce psychotic symptoms and autism symptoms by avoiding gluten. Any truth here? Any sound research to prove any of this?

    • The People's Pharmacy

      Healthy people don’t benefit from avoiding gluten unless they are sensitive to it. Not everyone is.

  4. Carol

    I remember hearing/reading long ago that vegetarians’ poop will float.

  5. djw
    Columbia, SC

    If you regularly use Fish Oil capsule supplements, your poop will float. Makes sense since fat floats in water.

  6. Bree
    San Diego

    Floating stools could also mean you have too much fat in your diet, maybe dairy or fried foods.

  7. Helen M
    Modesto, CA

    I have celiac, discovered from an endoscopy almost 10 years ago. I had an endoscopy about 20, or more, years before that, no one said anything about celiac. However, I have suffered with mild (Ha! not from the inside) gastric distress all my life. I am now 77. Gas, cramps, queasiness, CONSTIPATION. Still, I had a follow up appointment with the gastroenterologist who diagnosed the celiac to find out about treatment, future testing, etc. He told me I would have life long positive results from blood tests and that no treatment plan was available because everyone cheats. Some attitude. Lately I have been reading that your gut can heal, with the right treatment: abstinence from gluten, tho oats are still controversial, and the right foods, such as sauerkraut, lots of veggies, good fruits.
    Alas! I live with a man who does not have any gluten sensitivity, eats sweets, including cookies (I have diabetes too) and temptation abounds. Some people are very disciplined and can turn away, I have a hard time. However, at least, my poop does not float!

  8. Virginia
    Lula, GA

    Always remember to be certain your medications are also gluten-free, especially if you are in the hospital. No one from pharmacists, to doctors, to nurses, paid any attention to the patient’s record which clearly stated that the patient was celiac. My aunt nearly died recently due to this scenario, and she was in a big, well known facility. Had her son not intervened she might not be here.

  9. Diane McGrath
    Chapel Hill, NC

    Absolutely get tested for celiac disease. Tan, floating stools is indeed a symptom that should be checked. One of the issues with celiac disease is that high fat foods are not metabolized. There are two blood tests and also a genetic test. Although the genetic test is not diagnostic, it is an indicator for CD. That is, if there is a trigger (gluten/gliadin) the genes will be expressed, thus CD. Also, the gluten free diet is very complicated given the many derivatives of wheat, rye, oats, barley, cross contamination. Reading labels is imperative.

  10. Suzy

    I occasionally have floating poop, normal colored. I think in my case it’s NOT related to my pancreas but instead to what I eat. Some foods seem to cause it, and some fats seem to be the main cause. However, if it were an everyday kind of thing, I’d get it checked out.

  11. Liz

    I’ve always thought of floating poop as a sign that I’m getting enough fiber in my diet, not as something to be concerned about.

  12. Ray
    Bossier City, La

    I have more bowel problems if my poop does not float, as I use Psyllium Husks, Chia Seeda, and other fibers – have a larger, easier, relief — At age 95 these and other fibers help —

  13. JD

    I have IBS, and my stools fluctuate between floaters and sinkers. I take Konsyl Physillium Fiber (similar, but a much better product than Metamucil) twice a day. If I miss a dose(s), I get constipated and my stools sink.

    I’ve always been told that proper fiber in your diet causes the stools to float and that this was certainly a good thing.

  14. Fran
    Cary, NC

    My belief is that the test for celiacs is not totally without risk. I have received a great amount of help from Dr. David Perlmutter’s books. Dr. Perlmutter was on People’s Pharmacy Radio Program recently.

  15. AHS
    Sherman, TX

    I have struggled with severe anemia for several years and have symptoms of Celiac or gluten sensitivity. A cousin and an uncle also have gluten sensitivity. I had a negative blood test after going back on glutens for 6 weeks. The gastroenterologist I was referred to told me I needed to be on glutens for at least 6 months for an accurate result. He also said that biopsies can give false readings because not every inch of the intestine is effected. In his view, the only accurate test is a lower GI. He won’t perform that test unless I am unsuccessful in improving my iron level. His advice to me is assume I have Celiac, avoid all glutens, and eat non-gluten grains no more than once per week.

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